Over 6,000 miles have rolled under the GreenFleet long-term Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV’s wheels. Richard Gooding reflects on just over six months with the big plug-in hybrid, crunches the numbers, and finds both an economical and likeable first step into part-electric motoring.
Familiarity breeds contempt so the saying goes, but over the period of six months and two weeks I spent with the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, that certainly wasn’t the case. WV65 YUO silently drove off the sunset in the middle of August after 6,843 miles, and I was largely sad to see it go. Though not the car’s typically target demographic – no offspring, dogs or neither a company car user – I found myself with an Outlander PHEV-shaped hole not long after it had departed, such was the other benefits it offered. But what were those benefits?
Off course, perhaps the most obvious – aside from the tax and cost benefits – was the silent and smooth powertrain. With its pair of electric motors (one per axle) and underfloor battery, in all-electric mode, the Outlander PHEV was soothingly quiet. When the 2.0-litre petrol engine did kick in, it was a largely non-noisy affair. However, as with some other hybrids, there was, on occasion, a ‘surge’ in volume when the more conventional power source made itself known. Not quite as seamless as Mitsubishi suggests, overall, though, it was a still a much more pleasant experience than a traditional SUV which is more often than not powered by a diesel engine. Very little noise on tickover coupled with the silent running in EV mode really was novel and ensures the Outlander has very few rivals.
Mitsubishi claims its plug-in hybrid SUV can travel up to 32 miles on electric power alone. I only ever got the range indicator to suggest that top ceiling twice, the engine chiming in towards the end of my 25-mile commute. Towards the end of WV65 YUO’s time with me I managed to drive the whole distance on electricity alone, suggesting the research which denotes that warmer temperatures benefit electric vehicle range is correct. But maybe my daily trips are extraordinary: Mitsubishi states that the car’s EV range is ‘ample distance for the average daily commute’: that daily commute is 25 miles according to the UK’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Whatever, it’s still longer and more useful than the more expensive BMW X5 xDrive40e’s distance of 19 miles.
More visible charging indicator
When it came to charging, I was able to plug-in both ends of my trip, so I used the EV capabilities to the maximum. A 7.2kW POD Point unit dealt with the home charging needs, while the car’s three-pin EVSE cable was used at the office, even if the car was somewhat illicitly parked in a loading bay due to the lack of electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the surrounding area. One thing the Outlander could do with is a more visible charging indicator such as the one the Nissan Leaf has on top of the dashboard. I knew that the charging time at home was around 3.5 hours, but still had to open the door to see whether the charging cycle was complete or not. A flashing light display such as the Nissan Leaf’s – or a flashing external diode telltale such as that on the Passat GTE – would make for much easier confirmation of that charging cycle completion. Otherwise, charging was simplicity itself.
On the thorny issue of public charging networks, I only ever connected the car to the Ecotricity CHAdeMO rapid charger system twice, both times with mixed results, but ultimately ending in success. A full report of one of my experiences can be found in GreenFleet 92, but overall, the infrastructure in the wild still needs some work, and I know I’m not alone in that train of thought.
Variable charging costs
When it comes to charging costs, this can vary enormously, due to different tariffs and rates. At home, I have no Economy 7 rate and am on a flat charge for both day and overnight electricity. A typical rate of 9.37p per kWh resulted in costs of between 94p to £1.14 per charge, around £17 per month/reporting period. The office rate of around 11.0p per kWh meant a typical charge cost of £1.10. Generally, unlike fuel prices, the cheaper your energy tariff, the cheaper the Outlander PHEV will be to run when it comes to charging. Over the whole loan period, the charging costs amounted to approximately £113.30. If you plan to run the car as cheaply as possible, it pays to shop around for the cheapest energy deals. The car has an on-board charge cost calculator and I wish I’d used it sooner than I did. Richard Mackney, another Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV owner has an easy to understand charging cost guide at bit.ly/2coTNww. Overall, the car was charged almost twice as much at home than it was at the office.
Of course, once the petrol engine starts up, the potential sky-high economy is dented somewhat, but it depends on what degree the unit is used. When more power is called for, or when the battery’s charge falls, Series Hybrid mode uses the engine as a generator. Supplying electricity to the battery which in turn powers the motors, Mitsubishi states that this is a highly efficient use of fuel. Parallel hybrid mode sees the petrol engine provide most of the power, with motor assistance only when needed, when driving at high speeds for example. In addition, the ‘Battery Charge’ or ‘Battery Save’ modes lets you decide when to use the battery’s charge, bit be warned: ‘Battery Charge’ is the least efficient way to replenish the battery and really makes holes in the economy figures.
Well-judged regenerative braking
Benefit number two: I found the regenerative braking to be very useful and one of my favourite aspects of the Outlander PHEV. Using kinetic energy which is generated from deceleration to recharge the battery, potential range can be topped up, but I didn’t find it as easy as in other selected EVs and PHEVs. What the system was, though, was well judged. Towards the end of the six-month test I used the steering wheel-mounted paddles with abandon and revelled in rolling to a stop just as a junction approached.
I used the regenerative braking and coasting practices in earnest the weekend before the car went back. I took part in the Layer Marney Cup, a 72-mile fuel economy trial around the Essex countryside. Although hybrids (plug-in and conventional) were banned from the event’s results, the Outlander PHEV did me proud, achieving 83.42mpg over the set distance, coming second overall. The overall ‘winner’ was a Toyota Auris Hybrid which scored 109.2mpg. Economy over WV65 YUO’s time with us varied hugely, sometimes as low as 32.4mpg, sometimes as high as 998.6mpg.
Judicious charging resulted in average values which exceeded Mitsubishi’s figures on more than one occasion, but use the engine more than was needed and it was paid for at the pumps. Overall, over the loan period, I used £525.39 of fuel, due to more longer journeys than I’d anticipated (and resulting in the low overall six-month charging costs). That may sound a lot, and it’s not directly comparable, but I would fill up my conventional 1.6-litre hatchback with around £35.00 of fuel per week, which would cost approximately £840 over six months. That’s a good deal more for a much smaller and less practical and luxurious car.
The car perhaps wasn’t best-suited to my needs: during the test period I conversely went on more long-distance journeys than usual, and more often than not due to timings, I had no chance to stop for a top-up once the EV battery was depleted. So, the car used more fuel than electricity on those occasions, eroding the potential economy. However, as our experience of owners in last month’s report proved, some owners go impressive distances without putting a drop of fuel in. Stephen Cranford is one such Outlander PHEV owner, having gone six weeks and 1,462 miles without a fuel stop: “I consider it a challenge to drive it in 100 per cent EV mode. If the petrol engine kicks in that’s a failure!’ he said. Stephen is averaging 225mpg, while charging is costing him around £30 per month. During the period which the car was with me, it was almost always driven in ‘Eco’ mode with the regenerative braking ‘gear’ mode selected.
Commodious and accommodating
As with all early adopter technology, the Outlander PHEV isn’t an especially cheap car. When new, ‘my’ GX4hs car retailed at £36,499 as tested. Yes, it’s large, commodious and very accommodating, but some of the finer details let the car down. The quality of some of the interior fittings didn’t feel up to the quite hefty price tag, and the infotainment system wasn’t one befitting a near £40,000 car. It was the most infuriating part of the whole vehicle, with connectivity and slow-running issues plaguing its day‑to‑day use. It was disappointing that if Mitsubishi could develop such a clever powertrain, why couldn’t it fit a much easier to navigate and less problematic control system? As an audiophile, the sound was good, even if it took a while to find what you wanted to listen to. The ‘birds-eye’ camera system was a real boon, however, and eased parking the long Mitsubishi into otherwise out-of-bounds spaces.
Overall, though, the Outlander PHEV is a comfortable, economic, engaging and interesting companion. With lots of space, a well-thought out powertrain and considered SUV looks, it’s easy to see why over 100,000 examples have now been sold worldwide since 2012. Mitsubishi reports that the UK accounts for around 20 per cent of sales, the current model finding 21,052 homes since its launch in 2014. Unrivalled in its class, the Outlander is a very commendable and enjoyable route into part-EV motoring if you’re not quite ready to go on a non-fuel ‘full EV’ diet. But that’s where GreenFleet is going next.
Yes, we’re shedding the fuel pounds and slimming down to drive a full electric car for three months. Find out more details next month, or follow @GreenFleetNews or @richgoodingcom on Twitter for a preview.